Success & Abundance
Lead with Your Heart
More thinking or more feeling?
Published: March 23, 2013
by Tim Ryan
Mindfulness guides us back home.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
—Henry David Thoreau
It was cold and gray outside as I walked by the bottom of an imposing mountain. It felt as though fall had turned into winter in just a few hours. Snow was falling on my face as I walked—silently and slowly—beneath still-colorful trees. Leaves crackled under my weight as my foot hit the ground. I heard water moving over rocks in the small stream just a few feet to my left. In that moment, I was completely awake to life. My body relaxed, my brow unfurled. Something just happened, but I wasn’t doing anything. I just let it be. The landscape looked crisper; my breath in the cold air entranced me. It felt as if a cloud had lifted from my eyes. I had no desire to be elsewhere—no thoughts about a better place. There was nothing to achieve or anything to prove to anyone else. I didn’t have to defend a political position and felt no need to prove my self-worth through running for office. I didn’t need to win an argument or drive a point home. I didn’t need to be liked. I didn’t crave affirmation. I was . . . OK. I literally just was.
After days of practice and instruction at a Power of Mindfulness retreat led by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the Menla Mountain Retreat Center in upstate New York in November 2008, the training had taken root. The runaway horses of my mind were pulled to a halt, and I just breathed in and out.
Our society suffers, I think, from an overemphasis on the intellect and an aversion to matters of the heart. In his retreat program, Jon used poems and stories to illustrate the potency of the heart. The less chit-chat that was in my brain, the more the poems touched me. Having my heart opened up like that reminded me of my oldest nephew, Nicolas. He’s five and attends a Catholic preschool with the Oblate Sisters in Youngstown. After school one day, Nicky’s teacher told his mother that at the end of every school day, she plays classical music as they all clean the classroom. And every day, Nicolas cries when he hears it. Sister says that it “just touches him so much.” How beautiful! How do we as a society teach our kids, our parents, everyone, to maintain that connection to the miracles all around us? Perfectly composed music or art, the wonders of nature, even our own ability to breathe, are all miracles. To feel that, we have to stop living only in our heads and also live in our hearts.
Some of the poems Jon read were from American giants like Thoreau or Emerson. I started to see mindfulness as very much in line with the values of America. Our founding fathers acted from the heart when they transformed our world by stating that “all men are created equal,” “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights” such as life, liberty, and happiness.
It seems to me it would do us all good to act from our heart more often. We’ll be surprised how small acts of attention and kindness can release the energy, enthusiasm, and imagination bottled up in our overstressed minds and bodies. We have tried a million times to think our way to a better society. But our thinking doesn’t work so well if it’s not aligned with what we feel deep in our hearts, our inspirations and aspirations, our innermost desire. We need to realign ourselves the way a GPS in a car recalibrates the route. When our wandering mind takes us away from our heart, we need to pause and realign ourselves with the values we have stored there. We can then remember what motivates and inspires us to get up and take on the challenges of each day. I learned that for myself up on the mountain.
Tim Ryan was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002 and is currently serving in his fifth term representing Ohio’s 17th Congressional District. He maintains a strong commitment to the economic and social well-being of his constituents in northeast Ohio.